April Vestry Meeting Minutes: Annual Retreat

Annual Retreat of the Vestry
Board Room, The Falls Church Episcopal, April 2, 2016

Attendees: Mother Leslie, Julia Carter, Mary Cushing, Dwight Denson, Cathey Dugan, Tad McCall, Dan Plafcan, Karen Ruff, Tom Sheldon, Alice Thomas

Tom Linthicum (TDL Group Inc.) as Facilitator of the Retreat

 Action Items:

Around 3:30, we summarized our plans for taking action on the topics we had discussed:

  1. Newcomers: Karen, Tad, and Cathey will meet with the current Greeters by 5/17 to explore empowering a ministry of “Welcoming & Membership”. Tad will contact the St. Michael’s webmaster, Tim Matlack, for ideas on what to take from the website and modify into a “who we are” information brochure.
  2. Volunteers and Ministries: Mary and Leslie will quantify participation by current parishioners in each of the “ministries” declared in the 2015 Ministry Fair. Julia and others will draft a prioritization of critical ministries needing volunteers. Each Vestry member will poll the ministries to which they are the assigned Liaison and report to the April Vestry meeting (1) critical gaps in support, (2) effect of the 2015 Ministry Fair. By the May Vestry meeting, Julia will have gathered thoughts on what type of Ministry Fair to have in September 2016.
  3. Care of Creation: Leslie by the May Vestry meeting will propose dates, not necessarily consecutive, for educational forum using the five-part curriculum prepared by the US Episcopal Church. Tom S. will explore announcing the forums in the regional chapter of Interfaith Power and Light (gwipl.org ), and other community groups such as Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment (www.arlingtonenvironment.org ). Mary will ensure articles in the Guardian cover the series. Tom S. will investigate publicizing St. Michael’s interior and exterior efforts in environmental stewardship.
  4. Strategic Plan: Tad, Karen, and Alice will meet with Mtr. Leslie and discuss approaches to strategic planning. Part of this discussion will be reviewing the prior Strategic Plan. Whether or not to create a new one and how to proceed will be discussed at subsequent Vestry meetings.


  1. At 8:45, we started our Retreat with Morning Prayer from the Northumbrian Community. Tom Linthicum began facilitating our work with a brief synopsis of his career and how he became a professional facilitator.
  2. 9-9:15, we broke in to three groups for Bible study using Acts 4:13-21 and the technique for small-group exploration called the “African Method”.
  3. At 12:30 before our lunch break, we prayed Midday Prayers from A New Zealand Prayer Book.
  4. Our work concluded around 3:50. We cleaned up the meeting room in preparation for Holy Eucharist using the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.

Vestry Annual Retreat Summary

Mother Leslie kicked off the 2016 Retreat by hosting supper at the Rectory on Friday night April 1st. We celebrated again the rejuvenated house (thank you to the Moving Forward in Faith campaign!). We greeted Tom Linthicum again as he facilitated our gathering the Retreat.

Saturday morning at 8:45 we reconvened with all nine Vestry members, Mtr. Leslie, and our facilitator. After listening to our answers to summary questions, Tom summarized:

  • Vestry members have been at St. Michael’s from 3 to 28 years, averaging six: a good balance showing current interest.
  • The Vestry is fairly balanced between genders.
  • Member’s “favorite things” about St. Michael’s mostly are the intangibles like joy, fellowship, opportunities for enrichment & engagement, respect for each other.
  • Expectations for today included honest and safe discussion, emphasis on strategic topics, recognition of parish accomplishments and shortcomings, individual tasking before we leave.

After prayers, Tom L. proposed the agenda that he had prepared in conversation with Mtr. Leslie and the Wardens. Each topic was given an hour. Discussion within each topic often crossed into other topics; we honored the topics instead of the clock, and nevertheless covered everything as well as time and energy allowed. The spaces within The Falls Church Episcopal were delightfully supportive of our time.

Topic 1: Newcomers (10:55 – 11:50)

While St. Michael’s has a committed group of Greeters, it lacks a system for connecting and inviting visitors to consider fuller participation. A brochure stating things like ages for children’s chapel, fellowship activities, adult education programs would help convey our “brand”. Tom L. noted that a “Welcome and Membership” committee would have a system to (1) Identify the visitor in person rather than via a pew card. (2) Greet the visitor – who in some way is in transition – with a warm invitation to share their reasons for crossing our threshold. (3) Invite the visitor to participate today, even if only for coffee after worship. (4) Orient the visitor to pertinent areas of the church (worship, fellowship, classrooms) and the website. (5) Incorporate the visitor as a regular participant in the church community.

We agreed that two greeters in the Ivanhoe lobby are needed (so one can escort a visitor appropriately) and the greeters need to be in the lobby at least ten minutes before worship starts. Vestry members are “ex officio greeters”. The more members wear their nametags, the more open our congregation appears to a visitor. Tom L. recommended the group that emerges to formulate the St. Michael’s system look at the series developed by another Diocese http://www.invitewelcomeconnect.com/ . New members may arrive through the “front door” for worship and during the weekday with the many groups using the spaces.

Topic 2: Care of Creation (11:55 – 12:30)

St. Michael’s has “a coalition of the willing”, but no actual system for acting out this priority. The group of committed workers can formulate goals and invite the wider congregation’s input, agreement, commitment. Tom S. has connections to environmental groups; Caroline Haynes is leading a group on restoring the church grounds with sustainable native plantings; much of the MFIF construction involved conservation of energy or water resources. While the involved individuals may recognize the theological aspects of these works, more consciousness of that is appropriate. Both the Diocese (caringforgodscreations.com) and the US Episcopal Church have resources for this, and Mary is familiar with these and other faith-based resources.

The ideas of the small group to the St. Michael’s parishioners must verbally and visibly be conveyed to all members: prayers, sermons, events as well as announcements. Communication and the parish’s position must remain non-political and include pitfalls as well as progress; it must make it easy for participation by newcomers, all ages, interests, abilities. Mtr. Leslie is scheduling an Adult Ed series using videos prepared by the US Episcopal Church. We have ways to advertise these to the wider community.

Topic 3: Volunteers (1:15 – 2:45)

Everyone agreed that enormous work resulted in a creative and energetic Ministry Fair last September. This Fair was a clear welcome and invitation, but seemed to lack “connection” to new members (see Topic 1). Quantifying the effectiveness of the Fair at getting new participants wasn’t done. We agreed that each Vestry Liaison will ask this question to each assigned ministry.

The idea of highlighting a major ministry each month did not get traction for several reasons. Some ministries are critical to the existence of worship at the church. Others exist for fellowship within and outreach beyond the parish. Each ministry is not equally helpful to critical operations of St. Michael’s Church.

While members are engaged in many activities, “why” each activity exists is not transparent – what are the theological underpinnings? We considered developing a Strategic Plan to state priorities, and align “ministries” within these priorities. Giving a clear answer to “why your work matters” will elevate willingness to help. If we create a Strategic Plan, it must (1) communicate to members and visitors where St. Michael’s is and intends to go, (2) It ought to make evident “who is my neighbor?” – for whom (Whom) is St. Michael’s working? An outline of a Plan can be fleshed out by Vestry members, but must be brought to the congregation for input and agreement.

Topic 4: MFIF II (3:00 – 3:15)

This was on the original schedule because of the desire for more capital construction expressed at the Forums in January. Alice suggested that major discussion wait until the results are known of our request to the Diocese of Virginia for a Small Church Revitalization Grant. If our request is granted, we have to raise $15,000 to do $30,000 of specified new projects (in the classrooms, Parish Hall, Sacristy). If our request is not granted at all or to a lesser or smaller degree, we have to prioritize projects and decide costs for them.

We need to celebrate the conclusion of MFIF I, keep parishioners aware that every dollar of their pledges are needed, and communicate our thanks to our neighbors for enduring the exterior workers – and invite them to tour the rejuvenated places. The frequent communication during the construction – even if it concerned nothing more than explaining delays – seems to have been valuable in maintaining parish “ownership” of the work resulting from their pledges. It was suggested that such communication be a model for any and all efforts – from Strategic Planning to new volunteers.

Respectfully submitted,
Alice Thomas, Register

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